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Satirical cover of The New Yorker July 21 issue by artist Barry Blitt, shows Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama dressed as a Muslim and his wife as a terrorist. (The New Yorker/Associated Press) ((New Yorker/Associated Press))

The New Yorker magazine has stirred up controversy in the U.S. for a satirical cover that shows Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama dressed as a Muslim and his wife as a terrorist.

Both the Obama campaign and the campaign for the Republican candidate, John McCain, have objected to the cover art for the magazine's July 21 edition.

The illustration by artist Barry Blitt depicts Obama wearing traditional Muslim garb and his wife, Michelle — dressed in camouflage, combat boots and an assault rifle strapped over her shoulder — standing in the Oval Office.

An American flag is burning in the fireplace and over the mantle hangs a portrait of Osama bin Laden.

In a statement, the magazine said the cover "combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are."

The New Yorker says it is satirizing rumours about Obama — including rumours that he's Muslim and anti-American.

It defended its choice, saying its readership is sophisticated enough to get the joke.

Inside the magazine is a serious critique of Obama's political skills by writer Ryan Lizza.

The Obama campaign issued a statement condemning the cartoon.

"The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in the statement.

McCain's campaign also issued a statement saying the cartoon is "tasteless and offensive."

The U.S. media are divided on whether the cartoon will provide fuel for right-wing critics of Obama's candidacy.

The Washington Post has termed the image "incendiary" and said the magazine has succeeded in gaining attention.

Sean Gardner of the Huffington Post says the magazine fails to provide an explanation for the satire. Other columnists throughout the U.S. agreed it has gone too far.

But Pulitzer Prize winner Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune said the image is "just lampooning all the crazy ignorance out there."

Behind the controversy is an e-mail campaign that purports to show Obama in Muslim clothing and repeatedly questions his patriotism, political author Jeffrey Feldman said in an interview with CBC News.

"The idea [is] that somehow Barack Obama is an urban terrorist with a secret agenda that is aligned with al-Qaeda and the second he gets in the White House, he's going to launch some covert plan in order to bring down the United States," Feldman said.

"It's such a ridiculous claim, but no matter how many times people fight back against it — including on the Obama website [where] they have an entire section dedicated to just fighting these smears…it still seems to be gaining ground. There's almost an exhaustion, a frustration that this type of smear campaign is working to spread these ideas."

Rachel Sklar, media editor at the Huffington Post, said she believed the image may be used by Obama opponents.

"This is so clearly a send-up and I understood that when I saw the image, but what I also understood was that it so perfectly encapsulated all the most vitriolic smears about the Obamas, that it could well be used as genuine irony-free propaganda," she told CBC News.  

The fear among supporters of Obama is that he will be forced to talk about the cartoon, rather than substantive policy issues.

Obama has not yet commented directly on the cartoon.